DISCLAIMER: I wish I owned my very own "naked" Inuyasha! I'd never stop playing with him…

Killing Me Softly

By: Lara Winner

……………………………………

Inuyasha knew there was something wrong even before he opened his eyes.

The warm sunlight spilled over his bare chest sending pseudo warmth seeping into his flesh. Still foggy with sleep, he reached for the solid body that should have been lying beside him but his amber orbs shot open in alarm when his seeking fingertips met nothing but air.

"Kagome?"

The soft plea echoed against the backdrop of chirping birds and the rustling of leaves in the gentle west wind. Inuyasha quickly blinked the sleep from his eyes, his gaze darting frantically about the small meadow that surrounded him.

"Kagome!" he called, his ears perking to attention and straining for any sound the girl might have made.

But there was nothing.

The alarm that filled Inuyasha swiftly turned to numbing panic as he sniffed the air. Her scent clung to his skin but it was old and fading. The faint trace of lavender that remained in the air was obscure, telling that hanyou that he had been alone for quite some time.

Lost in uneasy confusion, Inuyasha scrambled to his feet and jerked on his hakama hastily. The white kimono followed but when he reached for his haori his mind finally processed its absence. For a brief moment something akin to relief surged through his heart but noting that the young girl's odd uniform was missing, his uncertainty came rushing back.

Then the hanyou's heart nearly stopped as his golden gaze fell to the two objects lying innocently in the emerald grass.

There was a piece of paper folded neatly, its edges lifting as it caught in the breeze. And on top of the paper was a necklace of opaque purple beads and youkai fangs.

Swallowing hard, Inuyasha lifted a hand to his throat knowing that the reassuring feel of cool glass would not greet his fingers. Suddenly the reason behind his unease became apparent in the realization that he was alone. Any hint of Kagome's presence, any thread of their connection was completely removed.

Hands trembling from the force of his suppressed emotions, the hanyou lifted the perfect square of white paper fearful of its contents. He unfolded the note with measured reluctance, his gut twisting at the sight of Kagome's flowing handwriting.

The first words broke his fragile heart.

I couldn't bear to tell you goodbye so I wrote it instead.

After everything we've been through I'm still a coward when it comes to facing you. Or maybe I feel guilty for leaving this way. I'm not really sure. All I know is that this hurts more than I thought anything ever could.

There is so much I wanted to tell you before I left. Now that I'm writing this I know that I won't be able to tell you everything so I'll stick with that matters.

I love you, but you already know that.

I'll miss you, more than you'll ever know.

I know what you're thinking. If I care about you so much then why did I leave? Because one us has to walk away. What exists between us has no place the world outside of us. You're not free to love me and I can not remain in the past.

It may not make sense now, but one day you'll understand.

I hope you can forgive me for doing this. I wanted to tell you, to give some kind of warning that our time together was coming to an end but if I had tried to explain, you would have done all you could to make me stay. It was important that I leave now, while the memories we have are still happy ones.

I can only guess what you're feeling as you read this. If you're angry and it helps for you to hate me then so be it. If you're hurt then you've got to know that this is killing me too. But this is the way it has to be.

We both know that I can't give you want you need. I can't be your fallback crutch anymore. You need to move past her death and learn to live. You need to find your own happiness and you won't be able to do that when my connection to Kikyo will always bring up the past.

I want you to be happy. Now that jewel is complete you deserve to make your wish and I trust you'll make the right choice.

I couldn't leave without taking something to remind me of you. I've got your haori. You told me that finding fire rat furs was easy so I'm sure you can get another one. I'm sorry but I had to. It smells like you. That's something I want to remember.

I removed the prayer beads while you were sleeping. You deserve to be free. For all the times you've protected me, you more than earned it. I don't know if the beads were what allowed you to come through the well but just to be safe, I'm sealing the portal closed. You can't follow me this time and I don't trust myself not to return.

So I guess this is it. I'm supposed to say goodbye now. Gods, I don't want to. I wish I could spend the rest of my life with you. I'd willingly stay by your side if I thought it would do you good, but it won't. I know it and soon you will too.

Goodbye my love. The only thing I ask is that you take care of yourself and watch over the others for me. Since I won't be here to worry anymore…

I love you with all my heart and even though you could never say it, I know you loved me too in your own way. And for that I will be forever grateful.

Maybe one day we'll meet again. If not in this life then perhaps the next. That's the thought I'm going to hold on to.

Forever Yours,

Kagome

Inuyasha read and re-read the note until the shell of numb shock that encased him cracked under the heavy emptiness waiting to consume him.

No, his mind reasoned frantically, Kagome couldn't leave. She promised him that she would always be there. She gave herself, body and soul. How could she walk away after that?

He'd finally begun to believe that this time it would be different. He was eager to face what the future planned for him, for them. But he should have known it would fall apart. And maybe a part of him already knew. Was that not why he cherished the moments he spent with her is if they were the last?

Collapsing to his knees, Inuyasha stared sightlessly off into the distance. His throat worked convulsively to swallow back the lump of tears that rose with each painful breath he took.

If Kagome was trying to destroy what was left of his heart then she'd gone a done it. He had thought he knew what betrayal was when Kikyo's arrow nailed him to that tree but that was only a taste. This was the real thing and it burned inside his chest like the glowing embers of a fire, red hot and smoldering.

It would be easy if could hate her. He could brush this off like every other let down he ever faced if only he could convince himself that she had done it purposely. But he knew Kagome and he knew how her heart worked. She left because she honestly believed she was doing the right thing.

If this was the fucking right answer then why the hell did it feel like he was dying?

It may not make sense now, but one day you'll understand.

"Yeah fucking right." he breathed, bitterness and pain coloring his voice.

Looking down at the crumpled note, he sighed. With mechanical movements he folded the paper back into its original square and slipped it inside the fold of his kimono. Gingerly, he lifted the strand of prayer beads but the purple glass lacked the unseen energy it once carried. The spark of magic that bound him to Kagome was gone.

Inuyasha slipped the necklace over his head needing to carry something familiar with him. Eventually Kagome's scent would fade and the only physical impression of her that he would have left would be those damn beads. He would never get rid of them. He wanted to remember.

Steeling himself for the long walk back to Kaede's village, Inuyasha pondered trying the well one last time before facing his companions. But as quickly as the thought came he let it go. If this was what Kagome wanted then who was he to say differently. He had no right to deny her the chance to pick up her life where it left off.

He couldn't even tell her he loved her.

And if he had opened his mouth and said the words, would Kagome have stayed? No. She claimed she knew how he felt despite his silence.

She left.

Left him just like that, without a second thought.

And she said she loved him…

"Love my ass!" he raged to any creature that cared to listen. "You don't abandon the ones you love!"

Maybe one day we'll meet again. If not in this life then perhaps the next. That's the thought I'm going to hold on to.

Squeezing his eyes shut against the tears that blurred his vision, the hanyou dragged in a ragged breath. There was still one glimmer of hope. Five hundred years was a long time but he did have a wish to make.

Maybe there was one final ray of light on the dark horizon of his lonely future.

…………………………….

For the first time since her return from the Sengoku Jidai, Kagome felt a genuine smile tug at her lips.

Stepping into the quaint antique shop was like taking a step back in time for the young girl. Breathing in the familiar mix of incense and years of dust had her feeling as if she were a small child, carefree and excited.

Seeing her smile, Jii-chan nodded his head in approval. "Now aren't you glad you decided to come with me."

"Yeah I am" she agreed.

Kagome's mother was beginning to worry about her listless moping so in an attempt to get her out of the house for a few hours, Jii-chan asked of she would accompany him to visit an old friend, Mr. Tashima.

As a child Kagome would eagerly tag along with her grandfather to Mr. Tashima's store. She was always guaranteed a surprise gift from the eccentric old man. He had no children or family and he doted on her like he would his own grandchild.

It seemed today would be no exception.

"Higurashi! It's good to see you! And oh my… is that little Kagome-chan?"

Her smile widened. "Hello Tashima-sama."

"How lovely you have grown child. My my, you're not so little anymore are you?"

The elderly man's face crinkled as he smiled, the lines showing his age. His white was hair pulled back into a dragon's tail and despite the change in fashion, he wore a short blue kimono over a loose fitting white hakama. He even had and ornate sword strapped to his waist.

"Kagome is seventeen now. Come the end of summer she begins her first semester of college. She's going to major in medicine." Jii-chan offered proudly.

"Well now I must hear more about this. Come, I've made some tea."

Kagome followed her grandfather and Mr. Tashima to a small room in the back of the store. Kneeling around the table, the three began to sip at their tea as the conversation flowed from Kagome's latest accomplishments to the simple reminiscing of two senile old men.

After some time the trinkets and goods on display caught Jii-chan's wandering attention span, which left Kagome in the company Mr. Tashima.

She watched the old man curiously as something prickled the back of her consciousness. She'd known the older man since she was a child but something told her that she knew him from elsewhere. She never felt this strange feeling before in Mr. Tashima's company and, questioning her sanity, Kagome forced the odd feeling away.

Mr. Tashima paid no mind to her rude stare. She felt a measure of relief when he rose to his feet and chuckled, "Stay here child. I've something for you. I'll be right back."

He disappeared into the adjoining room and Kagome heard a bit of rummaging and a muttered "ah-ha!" before the elderly man returned holding a black velvet pouch in his hand.

Resuming his seat, he handed the pouch to Kagome but as she reached for it he lifted it just out of her reach, pinning her with a questioning look. "Before I give you this I want you to promise to take care of what is in this bag. It was not easy to acquire and I would be quite put out if you were to misplace it."

"I would do no such thing Tashima-sama." Kagome vowed.

Seeing the truth of her sincerity, the old man smiled and placed the velvet pouch in her hand. "Then I entrust this to you."

Worrying her bottom lip in excitement, Kagome opened the pouch and emptied the contents into her hand. It was a necklace of purple glass beads with youkai teeth spaced throughout.

The air left Kagome's lungs in a rush and her heart slammed painfully against her ribs. Her stomach dropped as a wave of pure emotion flooded through her.

The chance that it was Inuyasha's rosary was highly improbable. She knew that necklaces like the one she held were common in the feudal era. But the origin of the prayer beads did not matter. All Kagome could focus on was the way her heart seemed crushed in her chest.

There was no stopping the tears that welled in her eyes as the heartbreak she tried to overcome nearly ripped her in two.

Mr. Tashima observed her reaction with a look of pity.

"They're beautiful." Kagome managed to whisper, though she wasn't sure how her voice could sound so steady when her entire being felt is if it would shatter at the slightest touch.

"Would you like to hear the legend behind them?"

Kagome nodded unable to drag her gaze away from the necklace.

"Very well, now let me see… Ah yes. Many years ago a hanyou was bound to those beads by the spell of a beautiful young miko. Now the hanyou, who was no more than a boy really, was in love with the young miko as was she with him. The pair was as close as two lovers could be but their happiness was only temporary and in the end they were separated. Because of his broken heart, the boy kept the beads as a reminder of the enchanting miko until he could find a way back to her again."

Kagome choked back a sob. Masochistic tendencies prompted her to ask, "What separated them?"

"Some say it was the young girl's fears that came between them and others say it was the boy's rough nature. No one knows for sure." He gestured to the necklace. "It is said that whomever possesses the beads will find their way to true love."

It was a nice thought and maybe she could dare to hope… "And what if you've lost your true love?"

"Then it will lead you back."

"Do you believe that Tashima-sama?" she asked softly, desperate for some form of reassurance.

"Anything is possible Kagome-chan." Mr. Tashima tilted his head thoughtfully. "Perhaps there is someone you wish to return to?"

Tracing her fingertips over the beads, Kagome sniffed. "If only I could…"

"Cherish the gift and maybe fate will be kind and offer you a second chance."

"Maybe…" she echoed absently.

"If not in this life then in the next, ne?"

Her watery eyes widened at the old man's choice of words and her stunned gaze shot to the wrinkled face that stared back at her, mouth curved in a knowing smile. But before Kagome could question what exactly Mr. Tashima meant, Jii-chan chose that moment to interrupt.

"Are you ready Kagome? We really must be going. You're mother will worry of we're not back in time for diner."

"I'm ready."

Kagome was forced to let the subject drop as she slipped the prayer beads back into their velvet pouch. She followed Jii-chan to the front of the store, regaining her composure before turning back to her grandfather's friend.

"Thank you very much Tashima-sama."

"You are very welcome child."

Kagome started to turn away but she couldn't let it go. She had to know… "Tashima-sama, did the miko and the hanyou find each other again?"

The old man laughed. "I think I recall a happy ending. Why do you ask?"

"I was just wondering." She sighed, turning the velvet pouch over in her hand, and then smiled. "Maybe these beads work after all."

"Hoping for your own happy ending Kagome-chan?"

There was a revived sparkle in Kagome's puffy gray eyes as she clutched the pouch tightly.

"With all my heart."

………………………

As soon as the door closed behind the young girl, the elderly man breathed a sigh of relief. Seeing the renewed hope in the little miko's eyes lightened his heart. Which reminded him…

"You can come out now!" he called, turning his attention to placing a new incense stick in the holder.

Behind him a young man emerged from the storeroom, arms folded and his handsome face set in a scowl. Pale sliver locks fell over his shoulders and the twin dog-ears atop his twitched agitatedly.

"Oi Toutousai, I owe you one."

Breathing a small puff of fire to set the incense alight, the old demon grumbled, "I still don't understand why you didn't give the prayer beads to Kagome yourself."

"It wasn't about the stupid beads! I needed to see her reaction." The hanyou snapped.

"And now that you made the poor girl cry, what do you plan to do?"

Inuyasha grinned, determination shining in his amber eyes. "I've waited long enough. I'm going to make her be with me again, even if I have to grovel."

"I'm sorry. Did you say 'grovel'?" Toutousai chuckled, removing the sword from its place at his hip and carefully placing it in its proper display. An almost indiscernible shimmer rippled through his body as his human guise fell away.

"Yeah. You wanna make somethin' of it?" the hanyou snarled.

"Not at all." he smiled angelically. "But I do believe hell is freezing over as we speak."

…………………………………

A cool breeze ruffled Kagome's raven hair as she pulled the bright red haori more securely around her shoulders. Through the worn fur she barely felt the bark of the goshinbu tree at her back, where she sat under its sheltering branches. Snuggling her face into the collar of the soft fur, she drew in a shaky breath and welcomed the comforting scent of her lost lover.

Two months and it still smelled like him.

Two long, agonizing months of trying to pick up the pieces of her broken soul and she couldn't seem to get past clinging to the haori as if it were her last link to the real world.

Kagome gave a choked laugh and turned her teary gaze to the evening sky. Lazily moving clouds awash in hues of rose and violet stood out against the backdrop of indigo and she drank in the beautiful sight letting her mind travel down its desolate path.

She wondered if he missed her.

"Because of his broken heart, the boy kept the beads as a reminder of the enchanting miko until he could find a way back to her again."

Recalling Mr. Tashima's words drew Kagome's attention down to the antique prayer beads she held in her hand. The legend was vague but Kagome felt confident the necklace had indeed belonged to Inuyasha, yet the fact that it was no longer in his possession left her to wonder.

What happened to her hanyou?

If the legend ended where he reunited with his love…

She pushed the thought away. Inuyasha could not return to her, time and space would no longer allow it. And the sealing spell she placed on the well would let no one pass through, not even her. Their moment had come and gone. In fact, it should never have been.

But now that she had set things to rights, she was free to keep the memories. And how she held each one close to her heart, taking what courage and strength she could from them. It was what made facing each lonely day bearable.

The prayer beads would be another link to her lost hanyou.

"Cherish the gift and maybe fate will be kind and offer you a second chance."

She wanted to hope. The child in her heart wanted to believe in happy endings so very badly. Would it hurt to believe? Just this once?

Ignoring the scalding tears that spilled onto her cheeks one by one, Kagome placed the rosary over her head. Lifting her hair, the cold glass felt strange against her warm skin. She shivered.

"You know, those damn beads look better on you than they ever did on me."

The young miko's reaction was instantaneous. She froze, her entire body going stiff as her head jerked up. Wide eyes scanned the surrounding shadows as she asked, "Inuyasha?"

Her voice wavered with sadness and longing. It gave the half demon the courage to step into the meager light of the setting sun.

"Yeah it's me," he smirked, satisfied with the way her face paled then flushed at the sight of him.

"But… I… how?"

A single dark brow rose arrogantly. "Did you really think that sealing the well would keep me away?"

There was hurt laced in his gruff tone. Guilt twisted Kagome's heart. "Inuyasha…"

"You did what you had to do, I know." He sighed, trying to sound understanding but not quite sure he pulled it off.

Closing the distance between them, Inuyasha took a seat beside Kagome and leaned back against the ancient goshinbu. She was so close that he could reach over and touch her. His fingertips tingled with the leashed desire and he was sorely tempted, just to prove that she was really there, but he refrained. Instead he plucked a blade of grass and twirled it idly.

Kagome watched the boy out of the corner of her eye. There was a somber air about him, something that spoke of maturity, though physically he was exactly as she had last seen him. Only now he was dressed in modern clothing, including sneakers, as he lounged in a slouched position. His silver hair gleamed and his ears were pressed flat against his skull, a sure sign that he was upset.

Licking her lips nervously, Kagome tried again. "Inuyasha, how did you… I mean… did you… wait all this time?"

"I would've waited," he shrugged, "but I didn't have to. I used the Shikon no Tama and wished to sleep until you were born. That killed 475 years like that." He said, snapping his fingers.

Her confusion grew.

"Why didn't you wish to become a youkai?"

This time Inuyasha smiled. "I thought about it but then I remembered that we hadn't run into youkai in your time so I didn't want to risk never seeing you again. Sleeping was the safest bet. Miroku was the one who thought of it. He and Kaede took care of the protection spells and seals."

Kagome nodded but her mind was slowly processing each bit of information. The distraction was welcome. It helped her to block out the emotions just waiting to suffocate her.

"I've been here for the last seventeen years Kagome." He offered, unable to meet her tear-drenched gaze. "I watched you grow up. I saw how happy you were, you know, before you came through the well. It made me realize that I was wrong for wanting you to give that up."

"You never asked me to give up anything Inuyasha."

"I may have not said it but I thought it. It's the same thing."

Clutching the beads at her throat, Kagome prayed for the courage to bare her broken heart. He needed to know the truth and he deserved to hear it from her.

"I would have stayed with you. That's not why I left." She whispered.

Inuyasha's fingers stilled their agitated movements and the blade of grass slipped from his slack hold. That cold stab of betrayal twisted his gut once again and he felt his eyes begin to water.

Through clenched teeth he growled, "Then why the fuck did you leave me?"

"I needed you." he confessed, "If you wanted space I would have given it to you. I would have done anything for you. All you had to do was ask."

Here and now, sitting under the sacred tree, all of Kagome's reasons for her decision seemed silly. They were not worth the naked pain that clouded her lover's eyes. She had never meant to hurt him so much.

But what could she say in her defense?

"Inuyasha…" she huddled deeper into the haori as if it would shield her from the hanyou's pain, "For two years I watched you beat yourself up because of your feelings for me. You loved Kikyo and, believe it or not, I respected your loyalty to her. I had no right to complicate things. I guess in a way I've always felt as if I were holding you back."

"And then she died in the final battle with Naraku and after, it felt like you were slipping away. Maybe it was just me being paranoid but I've always gotten the impression that you regretted not dying with her." Kagome swallowed hard seeing the hanyou flinch, "And sometimes when you would look at me I had to wonder who you were seeing, me or her."

"It seemed like you couldn't move forward and I didn't want you to hurt anymore. I thought that if I left then you could put both Kikyo and me behind you. I figured with a little time you'd move on and find your place in life. With Naraku gone you were finally free to be happy. I didn't want to take that from you."

With every word that left her lips Inuyasha's fists clenched tighter. Closing his eyes against the wave of self-directed anger that fired his blood, he shook his head sadly. "I was the happiest when I was with you. I thought you knew that."

Kagome's heart wrenched.

"You never said how you felt, how was I supposed to know? The times when you would smile I could almost convince myself that things would be okay, but then I'd find you sitting in goshinbu tree staring off at nothing for days at a time and I felt useless because I didn't know how to help you. That's when I became afraid that if I stayed eventually you would begin to hate me for tying you down, or worse I'd hate you for not being able to let go of the past."

"I didn't want it to come to that so I…" she paused, not trusting herself to speak as need to cry nearly overwhelmed her. Pressing trembling fingers to her mouth she willed the sensation to pass.

"So you left." He snapped, turning his tortured stare to the girl beside him.

"I wanted to spare you."

"You ran like a fucking coward Kagome!" he snarled, his chest heaving from the strain of containing his anger, "How do you think I felt when I woke to find you gone? To know that you couldn't even tell me to my face that you were leaving? It hurt like hell. Fuck! I put all of my trust in you and for what? You just scribbled a note and snuck off like my feelings meant nothing."

He leaned closer. "You know what hurt the most, more than anything else?"

Inuyasha ignored the pleading in Kagome's gray orbs that begged for his silence and lifted his hand, running the pads of fingers over the smooth skin of her cheek.

"Knowing that everything I did was for you."

The last of her composure crumbled and Kagome was reaching for Inuyasha even as the anguished whisper left his lips. It was impossible to stop the hard, heaving sobs that wracked her small frame as she threw her arms around his waist and tucked her face against his neck. Even the spicy scent of his skin, wild and untamed like the forest, couldn't ease the guilt and shame she felt.

"I'm sorry," she cried pitifully, "I'm so sorry."

All the while Kagome's tears fell, the only measure of comfort Inuyasha could offer was to hold her as tightly as he could. There was nothing he could say to quiet her that wouldn't be completely redundant. Her pain was too deep for verbal condolences and gestures of compassion. She was crying for herself, hell even the tears that he couldn't, and with each salty drop that fell he sensed the barriers between them washing away.

No matter what, he was not letting her go again.

Time, the very thing that had been her enemy for so long, ceased to maintain its relevancy and Kagome let all sense of reality fade to recesses of her mind. This was where she needed to be, right here in her hanyou's arms. She didn't want to think about life or her future beyond this moment.

As the last of Kagome's sobs regressed back to leaky eyes and loud sniffles, the young girl leaned back offering Inuyasha a shaky smile. "I've missed you so much."

"Feh. Same here."

Courage deserted her and she focused her eyes on his chin. "Can you ever forgive me?" she asked, fearing his answer.

"You can't help jumping the gun on everything and you think way too much about the stupidest stuff… but I guess I can live with that." He sighed, pressing a light kiss to Kagome's temple.

Lavender and something purely Kagome taunted his nose and giving into the urge, Inuyasha nuzzled the raven locks that fell over her shoulder. When his lips brushed over the skin below her ear he darted his tongue out for a small taste delighting in the rush she gave his senses. And he wanted more.

She knew what he was about when he tilted her head. It was written on his handsome face. She could read it in his amber eyes as they locked with hers for a brief second before he closed the distance between their lips.

And in that instant Kagome was swept away in a current of emotion. Relief, joy, love, and the need to be closer than physically possible, all fused with a sense of finding that one place where she truly belonged. It was such a beautiful sensation that it brought forth more tears from behind her closed eyes.

For single moment two hearts beat as one.

Inuyasha felt his youki take hold, stirring his emotions down to the core of his soul. Invisible bonds reaffirmed their grasp on the one he called his mate and a deep growl of possessive appreciation rumbled in his chest when Kagome did nothing to dispute the claim.

It was all so perfect Inuyasha hated to pull away, but he relented when Kagome poked his side indicating that she needed to breathe. He grinned against her salty lips. "You're killing me koishii."

Kagome's eyes blinked open, her expression turning curious as she questioned the endearment. "Koishii?"

Inuyasha didn't like that tone one bit. He scowled. "Oi bitch, what are you getting at?"

"Nothing. It's just the first time you've called me that, that's all."

Kagome spoke the truth and Inuyasha felt his face heat up with embarrassment. His bush grew even deeper as he defended, "Well considering I love you, I'd die for you, I'm dying to fuck you again, and I even defied the laws of time to be with you… I think I've earned the right to call you koishii."

"You sound sure." Kagome laughed, torn between exasperation and pleasure at his bluntness.

"I've had years to think about this." he smirked, "Believe me, I know exactly what I want."

To prove it the hanyou kissed his mate, letting body language take over the conversation. And for along time the only sound that could be heard came from the softly rustling leaves of the goshinbu tree.

……………………………………………

A.N. – Heh… this one came out of nowhere. I just started typing with the scene of Inuyasha lying naked in the glow of early morning sunlight (yes I'm hentai and damn proud of it) and it turned into this. This is another one of those sneaky fics that simply write themselves. I really think my muses take over my body sometimes. It's kind of freaky. J